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Commissioner Schwinn starts tour at MCE

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn is joined by Johnson County Director of School Mischelle Simcox and Angie Wills for round table discussion during a recent visit to Mountain City Elementary School. The visit was part of Schwinn’s three-week tour of 50 school districts at Mountain City Elementary on Monday. Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn started the Accelerating Tennessee three-week tour of 50 school districts at Mountain City Elementary on Monday, June 14. Schwinn and other TDOE (Tennessee Department of Education) officials are traveling to key districts within East, Middle, and West Tennessee to hear about learning loss caused by COVID-19 complications and evaluating how new programs are helping fill the gaps this summer.

This tour is part of the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and dent Acceleration Act passed in the General Assembly’s special legislative session in January 2021. The main focuses are summer learning camps, STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math) mini-camps, and Reading 360 early reading training.

“After countless disruptions caused by a global pandemic, Tennessee is focused on implementing innovative and student-focused learning opportunities that will help accelerate student achievement,” said Schwinn. “The Accelerating TN 2021 bus tour will support the important work happening this summer– highlighting best practices, facilitating key discussions, and connecting the many stakeholders who want to help all Tennessee students succeed. By engaging, listening, and learning over the next three weeks, we can help ensure Tennessee continues to lead on behalf of our children.”

Johnson County’s most prominent issues in distance learning were internet availability and student learning styles. According to recent statistics, only approximately 35 percent of locals have reliable Internet service. During the discussion, Schwinn admitted she had not thought about how kids did not know how to learn virtually. According to Simcox, only about two percent of virtual students flourished.

Johnson County is currently in the middle of a STREAM mini-camp. Teachers use government funding to host educational studies with a twist to help students learn and have fun. According to Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox, having the right teachers helps this type of program flourish. Kids can do things they regularly would not in school, and the program is flexible enough for officials to adjust as necessary. Involvement in programs, such as Read to Be Ready, officials report noticeably helped with adjustments for students in that grade range. 

Johnson County School officials had no real complaints about the current program. Their only suggestions were to provide lessons earlier, so teachers had more time to build supplemental sources and allow field trips with provided funding. According to Schwinn, it is “exactly the kind of feedback we’re looking for.”

Find out more about the Accelerating Tennessee Tour at tn.gov/education/acceleratingtn2021tour. For more information on Johnson County Schools, visit jocoed.net.